Friday, August 19, 2011

Whale Song: Review of the new Claire Kiechel play

Whale Song or: Learning to Live With Mobyphobia
a New Play by Claire Kiechel
Directed by Brad Raimondo

The Dreamscape Theatre
Annual FringeNYC Festival

“Belief in a future Heaven creates a present Hell.”
~Eckhart Tolle

Is insanity hereditary? If your father was crazy, what does that make you? Are synchronicities really omens and portents, or is your paying attention to them a signal that you are schizophrenic?

Now here's an even bigger question-- how do you take those dark questions and turn them into a really funny play? Only Claire Kiechel could answer that last one, and she answers it in brilliant but wiseass fashion with this new play, “Whale Song.” Here is a writer of serious drama that could have been scripting for the Marx Brothers if she lived in the 1930s (I can DEFINITELY picture her at the Algonquin Round Table).

A writer is only as funny as her performers, and this play is cast extremely well. Each actor has an approach and delivery that maximize the humor while taking nothing away from any sadness or drama; it's a talented cast.

Hollis Witherspoon stars as Maya Swan, a schoolteacher grieving over her father, whose bizarre death- suicide by whale- haunts and humiliates her. The stress of wondering about her own sanity leads to increasingly stressed-out behavior and she begins to hear whale song wherever she goes. At the same time, a different whale shows up in the Hudson River, and Maya becomes convinced all these things are related. Is this her father talking to her? Or some great message just for her?

Maya's devoted boyfriend Mark (played charismatically by Ryan Feyk) can't understand why she won't see him or return his calls any longer. This guy tries so hard to please her that I'm betting half the women in the audience were thinking if she doesn't want him, they'd take him. Feyk plays the boyfriend so charmingly that even while you're laughing at the jokes, you're feeling really badly for him.

But Maya doesn't want the life of TV-watching and frozen food dinners that Mark represents and so “accidentally” falls in with the sincere rocker dude “Shep The Motherfucking Drummer” (played innocently by Jordan Douglas Smith). Maybe Shep is on drugs or crazy too, because he hears the whale song as well... and if you want to know the rest of the story, get a ticket today! Cuz I shall go no further in the spoiler department.

All of the main characters are both very funny and fully-formed, which is not the easiest thing to pull off, trust me. One of my favorites in the play, though, was this deliberately 2-dimensional hot chick TV newsbabe played by Rosie Sowa. Each time she clomps on stage in her mega-heels, you know the next scene is going to be funny. She reminded me of Alicia American (from me, that's a compliment).

Siri Hellerman as Maya's preppy sister Sarah has no doubt at all about her sanity or anything else for that matter, any smugness genes in the family went to her. Hellerman plays it realistically, which works perfectly for this character in this story. Maya's world is cartoon-like as she doubts her sanity, but her sister Sarah lives in the real world, understands money, handles the family business. Their dead father is played by Gavin Starr Kendall in a light fashion (considering he's dead, at least).

In the interest of disclosure, I should state that Ms. Kiechel actually helped me a bit in an uncredited fashion when I was first forming my “Those American Girls” concept. She grew up in Europe and so had a perspective on what people from other places really think of Americans, and she helped me condense my thoughts on that project, for which I'm very grateful. Because I'm biased toward liking what she does, I brought Checker Phil of the Checkerboard Kids television program with me to provide a second opinion. We left the theatre comparing the play to a good meal and wondering what vegetarians say instead of “meaty.” This play is meaty and satisfying but doesn't leave you too full or groggy, haha. Tickets are under $20 and there are only three performances left, so if you want to see something exciting and new that will leave you with a lot to think about AND teach you several new vocabulary words, go see “Whale Song.”

WHALE SONG or: Learning to Live With Mobyphobia
a new play by Claire Kiechel
directed by Brad Raimondo
Three performances left:
Mon, 8/22 at 6pm
Wed, 8/24 at 7pm
Sat, 8/27 at 9:30pm
For Tickets:
or 866-468-7619

This is part of the FringeNYC Festival and sometimes shows sell out in advance, so reserve your tickets today.
The First Floor Theatre at LaMaMa
74A East 4th Street, NYC

P.S. REAL theatre critics like this play, too! The NY Theatre Review called it, "...surreal and cleverly absurd."